Imagine this story appearing in the news headlines in the near future:
“Once, not too long ago, psychoactive substances were seen as a threat to society; now, scientists are scrambling to find out how a traditional African psychoactive medicine called ubulawu can open self-knowledge and intuitive capacity. This in the face of an epidemic of LSIS (Loss of Self Identity Syndrome) that has become a pressing issue for scientists and health care professionals to understand and manage.
While dismissed by global governments, there are serious calls by various academic institutions to address this syndrome, which some researchers are saying is the reason that depression is now the leading cause of disease in Western society. The researchers state the signs of LSIS have been developing over the last 25 years, and include: an inability to engage in personal emotions; disconnection from the natural environment; continuous stress and depression; the inability to visualize, imagine, and story-tell; and the inability to experience joy. The scientists are suggesting this is a result of an overwhelming dependence on the use of artificial technology, producing constant stimulation and stress, combined with overriding consumerism and a loss of connection from natural surroundings. It is argued that the rapid acceleration of the use of artificial technology has led to the progressive inability to self-reflect and engage one’s personal narrative; in effect, becoming a robot!
Dianthus mooiensis by Andrew Hankey
Many researchers are alarmed at how this new syndrome appears to be affecting learning, with school children in cities demonstrating the highest absenteeism in recorded history, with virtual and gaming technology platforms occupying 50% of students’ waking time, in recent studies. Yet, now, a multi-disciplinary team of botanists, healers, and pharmacologists are demonstrating that people can recover from this type of syndrome and its related depression by using a traditional form of plant medicine that reawakens one’s ability to engage with the self on an emotional and visualization level. Could this be the beginning of using psychoactive traditional medicines beyond their specific use in treating addictions to a more general use in health and wellness; a returning home to a traditional way of using plant medicines?” Is this story very distant from where we are now?
We live in an increasingly disconnected society; disconnected from ourselves—from our deeper and higher selves—through the myriad distractions playing off fear and desire in our consumer culture. Simply put, modern day busyness (consumer culture, the time-money-success model and artificial technology) appears to be increasingly distracting people away from themselves.
While emotions are targeted in our consumer culture around products, I have observed in my healing practice that many people find it difficult to access visualization (to visualize a story, an object, etc.), and to acknowledge disturbing emotions in themselves. Psychoactive plants, when used ritualistically in process work, can help us access and work with emotions and creative imagination; an under-developed faculty in modern consumer culture. In my own experience, I have found that, while I had a very lively and creative imagination as a child, this was rapidly eroded by the school system of rote learning; something the industrial consumerist focused system appears to produce, along with the pathologizing of the magical relationship to life, enchantment, and one’s relationship to nature.
Ubulawu, an African plant teacher medicine, has the ability to open one’s intuition and sensitivity to self-knowledge. Ubulawu is a traditional medicine preparation made from a variety of subtle-acting South African psychoactive plants (e.g., Silene and Dianthus species) that are made into a foaming infusion, the bubbles of which are consumed, opening the intuitive capacity of the mind. These medicines are also used to clean the body through vomiting; and together with eating the bubbles, the use of ubulawu in these ways allows one to access the subtle range of consciousness that enhances the interconnection to all things, i.e., spirit. These medicines are used in the learning and development process of South African traditional healers and are indispensable in their initiation and practice, but they are also used by the indigenous laypeople of South Africa to increase their dreaming and intuition—considered the realm of the deceased ancestors—and are therefore called “lucky medicines.” There is a great opportunity for Westerners to use traditional medicines like ubulawu as safe tools for self-enquiry, though their use requires guidance from a practicing healer to monitor response and progress.
While visionary plants like ayahuasca are an important means to interrupt old habitual patterning through visions that foster new learning pathways, it’s not only about experiencing visions when using psychoactive plants! Through my own initiation, I learned from traditional African healers that much of their psychoactive plant medicine, like ubulawu, is used to subtly increase the intuitive capacity to go within and find answers to personal questions. I am now conducting further studies on this important, yet overlooked, aspect of traditional psychoactive plant medicine use, both in South Africa and South America. It is this gap in the research that inspired me to initiate the Khanyisa Healing Garden Project, the purpose of which is to study, integrate, and sustainably utilize both the cultural and phytochemical aspects of psychoactive medicinal plants for the promotion of health and community development into the future.
It is my hope, through my work, that the role of traditional psychoactive initiation plant medicines for cleansing, strengthening, and opening sensitivity and intuition can be recognized in the West and applied to the path of seekers of self-knowledge. Yet, to get to that point, wider society needs to be educated that not all substances that affect the mind are drugs, and that there are psychoactive plants that have been used for thousands of years as effective tools for self-enquiry, self-knowledge, and growth. We appear to be at the beginning stages of a syndrome like LSIS and therefore, more than ever, we need tools like traditional medicine and nature to help us to access the primary state of consciousness, in the form of feelings and images, that we are fast leaving behind in the race towards reliance on artificial technology.